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A picture plays many roles: It becomes a record for some, a souvenir for others and, many a time, a reflection of how one sees the world. To understand one such perspective, Chennai-based photojournalist Shuchi Kapoor approached Bonnie Chiu, founder of Lensational, a non-profit that organizes photography workshops for underprivileged women across the world, to include those with Down’s syndrome in these classes.

“I wanted to understand their understanding of the surroundings and how they expressed themselves," says Kapoor, a volunteer, who conducts workshops for Lensational, teaching participants the basics of photography and documenting their use of the camera. Since last year, Kapoor has also been working independently on a project to visually document mental health issues in India.

Chiu agreed to the request immediately. “There is stronger stigma associated with mental health problems compared to other health problems. People with Down’s syndrome, especially girls, are often shunned, devalued and misunderstood by society. They are often the ‘invisible’ ones. Photography, with its power to heal, is a good tool to help them tell stories that words can’t," says Chiu.

Down’s syndrome is a genetic disorder associated with some level of learning disability and characteristic physical features. One of 800 people in India is born with Down’s syndrome, says Surekha Ramachandran, founder of the Down’s Syndrome Federation of India (DSFI).

On 19 January, seven women from the DSFI in Chennai participated in a two-day workshop at Lensational, conducted by Kapoor and French photographer Yannick Cormier. The participants were equipped with digital cameras sourced from Lensational, which uses donated cameras for its workshops.

The participants—in the age group of 25-35—were taken to the Nageswara Rao Park and Kapaleeswarar temple in Mylapore for fieldwork. “They were free to click anything and everything," says Ramachandran, whose 35-year-old daughter, Babli, was one of the participants.

“From flowers to fruits to the sky to a scooter—all colourful subjects captured their attention. Each participant must have clicked about 100 images. Many of them exchanged their cameras," says Kapoor. “They even used the zoom feature."

Selfies were also a hit. “Babli and her friends just couldn’t get enough of selfies. They were not concerned with which camera angle to use, which frame to use, they didn’t have any agenda. All they wanted to do was have fun, and that’s exactly what they did," says Ramachandran.

Thirty-seven of the pictures taken by the seven participants, along with some black and white and coloured ones of the participants clicked by Kapoor, are being showcased at the Thiruvanmiyur MRTS station as part of the ongoing Chennai Photo Biennale.

“I feel I have a lot to learn from the girls—for instance, how to free the mind of rules," says Kapoor.

The Chennai Photo Biennale is on till 13 March. Timings and venues vary. For details, visit Chennaiphotobiennale.com.

Vidyashree, one of the DSFI participants, posing next to a bike. Photo: Shuchi Kapoor
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Vidyashree, one of the DSFI participants, posing next to a bike. Photo: Shuchi Kapoor
A picture of a fruit kiosk taken by a participant.
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A picture of a fruit kiosk taken by a participant.
The participants were most excited about taking selfies.
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The participants were most excited about taking selfies.
Babli Ramachandran captures her surroundings in the Nageswara Rao Park. Photo: Shuchi Kapoor
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Babli Ramachandran captures her surroundings in the Nageswara Rao Park. Photo: Shuchi Kapoor
Lavanya Reddy taking a picture. Photo: Shuchi Kapoor
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Lavanya Reddy taking a picture. Photo: Shuchi Kapoor
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